10 Lies You Tell Yourself about Your Startup

We’re all too ashamed to admit it, of course, but at one point everybody who is starting up a business thought at least one of the following:

  1. If I only had the money, I could build the next <Google>” (<Google> stands for generic very successful online business). Sure, cash is important, but to help you grow, not to help you get started. You don’t need cash for the first prototype, you don’t need cash to make something work. Cash can help you expand, it cannot help you innovate, work harder and find out what customers want.
  2. I need to hire a team of developers” You might need to hire in the future, but not until you work at least 12 hours a day. And most definitely not until you get either serious traction or paying customers. You may not be a very technical person, which leaves you with two options: either you get technical or you find a technical partner with whom to share profit and loss. Look at it this way: if you know nothing about technology, who can you manage a team of people you hire? And respectively: if you can’t convince at least one developer to devote his effort to you idea, how are you going to go after users / customers.
  3. Lack of success is due to lack of planning”  This is a half-lie: planning, to some extent in necessary. However, when you’re starting up, doing is more important than planning. Your team probably has under 5 members, so human resource is scarce. Don’t waste it by writing plans and documents which bring little or no value to the actual customers. More often then not: lack of success is due to lack of action.
  4. It’s not ready” Again, it’s a half-lie. Yes, your product isn’t ready for the real world. But if you keep it behind closed doors, it will never be ready, because it will never be exposed to the harsh eye of the market and you’ll never get the feedback which will help you improve.
  5. We’ll make a viral campaign” Look, viral is just a word, not some checkbox you can tick. You can make something go viral by either having a lot of experience and resources or by getting really really lucky. But remember you’re a startup (not Mercedes-Benz), so resources and experience aren’t exactly your strongest suits. To me, saying you’ll make your startup/product/campaign go viral is like saying your business plan is winning the lottery. (I also really like people who stay awake at night to build brands for something that has no customers, no prototype and it’s basically just an idea.)
  6. If we get 1% of the market in <China> …” (where <China> is any big market). Now, this is the sort of lie which can make you look either delusional or stupid. Rather focus on the real feedback you got from your first ten users (even if two of them are your parents and five of them are your friends). It’s not a lot, but at least it’s honest. You’re too small to think about even 1% of a big market. And remember: there are only two things which can go from zero to over a billion in less than two years: cancer and Groupon.
  7. There’s no need focus on a niche/specific market, everybody will use our product” If you invented soap 200 years ago, that might have been accurate, although I have serious doubts. Saying anyone can use something points out you have no idea what you’re talking about. Bite your tongue, do your research, ask for user/customer feedback and come up with an answer closer to “small and medium businesses, employing up to 50 knowledge workers, in fields like insurance, human resources and recruiting “.
  8. Going to this seminar/meeting/conference will jump-start my business.” Yes, social events are essential for expanding your social network, talking about your product, getting opinions and maybe getting some people interested. Just don’t imagine that after walking in people will start throwing money at you (customers and investors alike!). Also, don’t expect that by attending some obscure coaching session which charges 200EUR you’ll become enlightened. Sure, try it, but see it as an investment and ask yourself in all honestly “Do I really expect to learn something new that will make me 200EUR or more?” Usually the answer is no.
  9. I’ll read this book and I’ll become a successful entrepreneur“. Oh come on, there’s virtually a handful of successful entrepreneurs, but millions of … well… people who buy self-help books. How do you explain the staggering difference ? Starting up a company is about making combinations of decisions that is unlikely to have even occurred before, ever. Much less is it likely to have been written about. My personal opinion (and this might be harsh) is that if you expect to get the answers to starting up from a book, any book … save yourself the trouble and get a job.
  10. I have this great idea that will be the next <Google>, but I can’t tell you, because I’m sure you’d steal it” I think this is my favorite, maybe because I heard it so often, maybe because it’s so hilarious. Let me lay it out straight: most ideas aren’t worth the paper they are scribbled on. Businesses are not ideas, they are the processes made to make that idea have a real life representation. So even if I give you they idea (this one for instance, or this one), you’d still need to put into it a lot of work, sweat, tears, inspiration, desperation, money and confidence before it even blips. A bigger problem you need to consider is that people won’t believe your idea could ever work – so why they bother to understand it and copy it ? Bottom line, anyone who is allegedly afraid to share what he’s working on either suffers from delusions of grandeur or is secretly afraid that everyone will think his idea is shit.

So those are the 10 biggest lies you could tell yourself about your startup.

Everybody lies

If some of them seem absurd to you, take a step back, do some research and try to understand why they’re not real.

On some of them, I know from personal experience: it’s painful, but it’s for your own good.

What’s your favorite lie about startups ?

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Bogdan Written by:

4 Comments

  1. Mark
    February 20, 2011

    I don't know if #2 is completely true. I have an IT start-up and a somehow steady client base, I don't work 12 h a day( maybe ~ 6) by work I mean actual programming, and I don't really have time to finish my own projects. You could say “What about the remaining 2-6 hours?”, well for me, dealing with clients and their request takes a very long time, and as you maybe know it's no picnic.

    So do I need to hire team of developers? Yes! If I would be willing to give away a part of the profit, but I'm not.

    My advice is to hire one or two developers only if you have a very steady client base or if you have an “amazing” idea and you need the time to devote to it.

  2. February 20, 2011

    Hey, Mark.
    Thanks for the comments.
    First of all, let me congratulate you: you already have a steady client base.
    So I'm not sure if you can still call yourself a startup – maybe you own a small business – but a steady client base points to a level of maturity most startups don't have (ergo, they can't afford to hire properly).

  3. Android606
    March 30, 2011

    My favorite lie about startups is “I'll just buy someone else's booming startup, then I can't possibly fail!”

  4. March 30, 2011

    That's pretty good, where did you hear that one ?

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